No surprises there, it comes from Latin… I really feel I am shortchanging the other beautiful classical languages, so I will keep it in mind and try to balance things out.
But innocence, well, it is a dangerous subject, it needs all the weight of history to keep it in its place.
Literally it means “without harm”. Not harmless per se, but one who has not been harmed yet. Is this an indictment on our way of life, that we consider children to be innocent but then we put away childish things when we grow up? As if life itself is expected to harm us not in the natural progression towards death, but in the stripping away of a protective covering we are born with.
But wait, don’t we grow defensive walls around ourselves against exactly this? So we first strip ourselves bare in the name of growing up then spend a lifetime trying and failing to return to that state? What are we doing to ourselves? And why do we praise the loss of innocence as a sign of maturity? Do we just want to remain children forever or is there something else?
I don’t know if I can answer that, but there are some observations to be made. First of all, innocence is expected, appreciated and protected when it is evident in children. Most adults are sad, angry and positively vengeful when children lose their innocence at the hands of other adults (most abuse does that). Innocence is also tolerated in those society discriminates against (think disabilities and race). The link there seems to be trust, for what it’s worth when the price is discrimination.
There is also the acceptance that innocence lost can never be retrieved. And this we sometimes do to ourselves. Whether as experiments or because of circumstances, we sometimes strip the innocence ourselves. But you cannot unsee, unhear or unfeel those things. So even later, when we have chosen perhaps a different pathway, those things remain tucked away in us, not enough maybe to ruin new experiences, but enough to give a somewhat bitter aftertaste to them.
It seems we can’t really avoid the loss of innocence, but then how can we use that loss to still continue to grow?
I would go for trust again. Being with people you trust can show us that beyond innocence lies not a wasteland, but a place of opportunity and beauty. Being able to trust allows us to lower our defenses so that we may share. Trusting others not to harm us means that any experiments we do can be at least fun and at best transcendent.
Now how do we get to trust? Or, to ask the better question, how can we become people others can trust? How do we go beyond cynicism (that’s hurt optimism for the lay people 😛 ) towards a state of… not ignorance, but of harmless curiosity? How do we, in truth, come back to innocence?
I’ll ponder this, the next time I will look at a baby.